Jews Versus Penguins in Antarctica Settlement Fight?

Jeffrey Goldberg is a columnist for Bloomberg View writing about the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy and national affairs. He is a national correspondent for the Atlantic, the author of "Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror" and a winner of the National Magazine Award for reporting. He has also covered the Middle East as a staff writer for the New Yorker.
Read More.
a | A

The American University of Beirut's Center for American Studies and Research -- whose main benefactor is Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud -- is holding a conference this week. "Transnational American Studies" is the theme, and I thought I'd share some of the topics to be discussed. (Michael Doran, at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy, originally pointed me to this conference's existence.)

The academics attending the conference, as a rule, are highly critical of the U.S. and of its role in the world. They also seem quite opposed to the existence of Lebanon's southern neighbor: Israel.

Here are some of the conference's topics: "Redwashing: Israeli Claims to Indigeneity and the Political Role of Native Americans" and "'Idle No More' and 'Redwashing': The Politics of Transnational Indigenous Solidarity." Then there's "Transnational 9/11 Memorials: Mapping the Geographies of American Affective and Political Cultures" and "Gay Spring + Arab Spring = New Global Security Regime?: Securitizing the Queer Intersections of 'Feminist' US Foreign Policy, Humanitarian Militarism, and Brotherhood Populism." And: "The Migratory Corpse as Counterpoint to Transnational Commodification."

My favorite offering, however, comes from New York University's Elena Glasberg: "'Paint the Sand Yellow Again': Settler Colonialisms across Antarctica and Palestine." The summary of her talk is worth quoting at length. Warning: It's a difficult slog but try to make it all the way through.

"This paper advances comparative studies of empire and settler colonialism through the unlikely connection of the Zionist fantasy of Israel-Palestine as 'a land without people for a people without a land' and a less known but no less fantastic construction of Antarctica (a territory in fact lacking natives) as a desert of ice turned into a 'laboratory for science' under the 1959 Antarctic Treaty. Both Israel-Palestine and Antarctica were post-WWII territorial solutions to the limits of capital and to contestations within the global North and West; both territories are governed and contested within the terms of international law in which desert or deserted lands are produced only to be occupied. I offer a visual history of exchangeable deserts of ice and sand, or the Orientalist citational practices through which contemporary Anglo-European science programs elaborate their claims in Antarctica through reference to 'Arabia' while Israeli expropriation and occupation of Palestine in turn develops through an exemplary techno-scientific control society. And yet this reference to modernity through science and extra-terrestrial ambition is also available to Middle Eastern actors and perspectives. Documentary and art projects such as 'The Lebanese Rocket Society' (2013) reviving the history of the early 1960s space missile development program and Swiss artist Gilles Fontilliont's 'The Palestinian Space Program' (2010) evince complicated engagements with technoscience, territoriality, and claim/occupation as resistance or alternative historicity for Palestine and the globe."

In many ways, I can relate to this discussion, because some of my colleagues have extraterrestrial ambitions. Nevertheless, to the degree that this synopsis is understandable, I fear that Glasberg is building a case for the forced expulsion of the Jews to Antarctica. This is an idea that would sit well with some in her Lebanese audience. (In reference to the general hilarity of Glasberg's synopsis, the Washington Post's Max Fisher tweeted, "Working on an op-ed calling on Obama to provide arms and support to moderate penguins.")

One thought sprung to mind as I came to understand the putatively anti-colonialist bent of the conference. This gathering is taking place in Beirut, which is a city essentially under foreign occupation. Hezbollah, the external militia of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, is Lebanon's main -- and most heavily armed -- power broker. Over the past decades, Hezbollah's leaders, and their allies in Tehran and in the Assad regime in nearby Damascus, have colonized Lebanon in brutal ways. Just last week, a prominent pro-democracy activist and critic of Iran's Lebanese and Syrian interventions was assassinated in Beirut. This wasn't the first such killing, and it won't be the last. Among those who understand the imperialist role Iran plays in Lebanon, by the way, is Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, a ferocious critic of the Iranian regime. But there are also countless Lebanese who understand what Iran, and its proxy force, has done to their country.

There is nothing on the schedule of this conference to suggest that these academics, so enthralled by Western sin, will have anything to say about what is going on right under their noses. The indigenous rights of Antarcticans, however, will be defended.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jeffrey Goldberg at goldberg.atlantic@gmail.com